After my mother passed away and my brother went to study in New Zealand, the first thing that really felt different was the dinner table. My father and I began eating separately. We went out to dinners with our friends, ate sandwiches in front of our computers, delivery pizzas while watching movies. Some days we rarely saw each other at all. Then, a few weeks before I was set to leave for university, my father walked downstairs. “You know, I think we should start eating together even if it’s just you and me,” he said. “Your mother would have wanted that.” It wasn’t ideal, of course—the meals we made weren’t particularly amazing and we missed the presence of Mom and my brother—but there was something special about setting aside time to be with my father. It was therapeutic: an excuse to talk, to reflect on the day, and on recent events. Our chats about the banal—of baseball and television—often led to discussions of the serious—of politics and death, of memories and loss. Eating together was a small act, and it required very little of us—45 minutes away from our usual, quotidian distractions—and yet it was invariably one of the happiest parts of my day.
Sadly, Americans rarely eat together anymore. In fact, the average American eats one in every five meals in her car, one in four Americans eats at least one fast food meal every single day, and the majority of American families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week. It’s a pity that so many Americans are missing out on what could be meaningful time with their loved ones, but it’s even more than that. Not eating together also has quantifiably negative effects both physically and psychologically.